Each holiday dinner, we encourage our gay child to bring any friends, straight or gay, that might not have a place to go. For nearly twenty years there have always been guests. Young people alone at Thanksgiving or Christmas or July 4. Once we had five visitors, always it’s one or two. Some come once, a few come several times.
There is food, of course, but we also have games and puzzles and serial football to watch. A few I have met before but most are strangers to me. It surprised me to realize some were near strangers to my daughter as well – a friend of a friend – but they were alone, so she invited. Some are pierced and tattooed. Some are in polos and slacks. Some reserved, others outgoing, but most relax as the day passes.
We don’t ask why they are separated from their family, why they are alone. Rather we have the interesting conversations that can happen with someone you just meet. We talk about movies, current events, school, hobbies. I remember laughing conversations about learning to drive, their best Halloween costume, beloved pets, and their worst camping experiences.
Often life challenges come up. They talk about car break downs, struggles to finish college while working, apartment robberies, or credit card nightmares. As our visitors have gotten older conversations include job hunting, worries about conflicts with bosses or co-workers, money management, and dreams of owning a house. We are sometimes asked for advice. My husband might help diagnose a car problem. We might talk about budgeting or what percent of income should go to housing.
I enjoy these days and the many young men and women I’ve met. But I also hurt for them and their families. Those parents who are missing in action. The siblings who aren’t close because a gay child has been cast out. They should be the ones laughing at the humorous stories, learning small details about the everyday lives of their child. The parents should be hearing about struggles in work or school, helping with problems, comforting if the child has been robbed or attacked. But they are missing in action.
I am struck each time at the loss on both sides, the break in family support and family connection. It is so harmful to everyone.
I remember one woman turning to me a I walked her to the door after a fun, sunny afternoon of food and companionship. She turned and spoke in a slightly choked voice, saying thank you, then, “I haven’t been in a family home since my parents kicked me out when I was 14. It was really good to be here.”
She was 24. Ten years. A decade.
What her parents have missed. They don’t know this poised, eloquent, caring woman who volunteers with the animal shelter and works for an architect. They don’t know her hopes and dreams, her struggles and successes. They don’t know her child.
Because they are missing in action.e